The potential for a regional flare-up shot up Friday and Saturday, Nov-11-12, with the blasts at two Iranian arms bases which killed at least 32 Revolutionary Guards men including Iran's top missile expert, and the Arab League Foreign Ministers' decision to suspend Syria's membership over Bashar Assad's brutal military crackdown on civilians.
As windows shattered in Tehran, the streets were awash with rumors that Iran was under attack, or that the regime had staged a failed nuclear test. Foreign businessmen were said to be fleeing the country.
In Kuwait, lawmakers demanded an urgent debate on the potential fallout from an attack on Iran three days after British ministers were briefed on a possible US-backed Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear sites in the last week of December or early next year. Hopes faded for effective international sanctions in the wake of nuclear watchdog evidence of Iran's nuclear capabilities, even as US President Obama tackled Russian and Chinese leaders at .
Hours after the base explosions in Iran, the Arab League decided to suspend the membership of its ally Syria and impose political and economic sanctions on the Assad regime. Members were advised to withdraw their ambassadors form the Syrian capital until their Nov. 2 peace plan was implemented. The AL decision was praised by US President Barack Obama and backed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
This penalty hurts Bashar Assad more than would a threatened Turkish invasion and seizure of a buffer enclave to serve the Syrian opposition. It conveys the Arab world's rejection of the legitimacy of Bashar Assad's regime. The Syrian ruler has got away with defying the UN Security Council, NATO and even Washington. He will find it much harder to survive being cast out of the fold by his Arab brethren who are punishing him for the contempt he showed for the peace deal they initiated and he signed by having his troops kill another 250 civilians in ten days.
Indeed the Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jassim, reading out of the decision, warned Assad that further non-compliance would result in "more steps to protect the citizens of Syria" by the Arab League – a broad hint at military intervention to aid the beleaguered opposition as Assad tried ineffectually to brand the Arab bloc American puppets.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan are already arming Syrian opposition groups and Turkey is hosting their command and training facilities. The scenario is beginning to resemble the Libyan format. There too, Qatari, Jordanian and Turkish military elements took part in the NATO operation to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. And Bashar Assad may be nearing the end of his tether.
No one any longer credits his word after his repeated promises in the nine-month uprising against him to pull his troops out of city centers, release prisoners and enact reforms, while only piling on the savagery. His army is turning against him. Even before the Arab League struck home, the tens of trained fighters going over to the opposition in the early months of the conflict were swelling in the last two weeks to hundreds, taking their arms with them. The ruling Assad clan and military command have reached a crossroads in the pact they concluded in March to extinguish the uprising regardless of the cost in blood.
That pact may now prove unsustainable confronting its parties with three broad options:
1. The army's top commanders may decide they can no longer get away with the slaughter committed in the name of the regime and the time has come to get rid of Bashar Assad. A coup d'etat would be one way.
2. Assad may get in first with a preemptive coup of his own to install in Damascus a military junta composed of trusted loyalists which he and his family will manipulate behind the scenes. This move would ease some of the Arab and Western pressure on him to step down.
3. He could make good on his threat to start a Middle East conflagration along with Iran and Hizballah. Most of the action would be aimed against Israel forcing the Arab League to go along with Syria and restore its status.
The war rumors sweeping Tehran after the explosions at the Revolutionary Guards bases and the hard choices confronting the discredited Assad regime have generated a highly perilous climate in the region. All its capitals are on edge for trouble. This time, the usual conspiracy allegations from Tehran and Damascus won't wash.